Thursday, June 8, 2017

UK economy at bottom of EU growth league; Softbank buys Google robot-maker; Oil stabilizes but glut stays

1 UK economy at bottom of EU growth league (Katie Allen in The Guardian) The UK economy was the worst performer in the European Union in the opening months of 2017 as the Brexit vote took its toll, according to official statistics that underscore the challenge facing the next British government.

With economic growth of just 0.2% in the first three months of this year, the UK was well behind its European neighbours. Official EU figures showed the growth for the whole of the EU was 0.6% in the first quarter. The eurozone single currency bloc also grew 0.6% in the opening quarter, buoyed by strong domestic demand.

The Eurostat figures showed every nation in the 28-member bloc reported first-quarter GDP figures growing faster than the UK. The strongest expansion was in Romania at 1.7%, followed by Latvia at 1.6% and Slovenia at 1.5%. The closest countries to the UK’s weak pace of growth were France and Greece, with GDP growing 0.4% in both.

However, in year-on-year terms the UK was closer to the EU performance and ahead of the 19-nation eurozone. After a strong second half to 2016, when the economy defied predictions of a post-referendum slump, UK GDP was still 2% bigger in the first quarter of 2017 than a year earlier. The EU’s economy was 2.1% bigger on the year while the eurozone was up 1.9%.

2 Softbank buys Google robot-maker (BBC) Shares of Japan's Softbank have surged to their highest in nearly two decades after the firm bought robot-maker Boston Dynamics from Google's Alphabet. Boston Dynamics, known for its robots such as Atlas and BigDog, has struggled to commercialise its inventions and was put up for sale more than a year ago.

Softbank also announced it is buying robotics group Schaft. The terms of the deals were not disclosed. Softbank shares rose by more than 7% in Tokyo. Softbank began as a Japanese telecoms company but moved into robotics and developed the human-like Pepper in 2014.

Founder Masayoshi Son has since built the Japanese firm into a massive technology conglomerate through some big deals. They range from buying UK chip firm ARM Holdings for $32bn) investing $1bn in satellite startup OneWeb, to setting up a venture fund with Saudi Arabia. Mr Son is known to have an eye for potentially transformative industries and trends. He was an early investor in Alibaba.

3 Oil stabilizes but glut stays (Straits Times) Oil prices stabilised on Friday following steep falls earlier this week, but they were still pressured by evidence of an ongoing fuel glut despite efforts led by OPEC to tighten the market by holding back production.

Brent crude was at $47.86 per barrel, unchanged from its last close. It still puts Brent almost 12 per cent below its opening level on May 25, when an Opec-led pledge to cut production was extended into 2018. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was at $45.63, also virtually unchanged from the last close, but almost 11 per cent below May 25.

The slump was a result of oversupply despite the effort led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) to cut almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) of production until the first quarter of 2018. US Energy Information Administration data showed a surprise build in commercial crude oil stocks to 513.2 million barrels this week.

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